Parkland: A Call for Dignity

Empowered by the pain of all who survived and all who lost loved ones—Emma Gonzales called out the people, policies, and practices that perpetuate gun violence in America: “We Call BS!” (Photo: screen grab from CNN.com)

By Linda Hartling and Evelin Lindner, © 2018
World Dignity University Initiative, and Dignity Press

Linda M. Hartling, Ph.D., Director, Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS)
Evelin G. Lindner, M.D., Psychologist, Dr. med., Dr. psychol., Founding President HumanDHS

Breathing grief, student-survivor Emma Gonzales sent America a message. Three agonizing days after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida—empowered by the pain of all who survived and all who lost loved ones—Emma called out the people, policies, and practices that perpetuate gun violence in America: “We Call BS!”* Were her strong words a modernized manifestation of Gandhi’s satyagraha, speaking a firm truth rooted in the power of love? We think “yes!”

Emma and her classmates became the emergency responders resuscitating America’s urgent need for gun safety regulation and peace education. Forced into the frontlines of advocacy, she and a courageous cadre of survivors channeled a tsunami of trauma into a call for immediate action.

By demanding gun safety, Parkland students are reclaiming their dignity. They are announcing that they are awake to the humiliation of realizing that a “Great America” is not protecting their lives in what should be one of the safest locations: our schools. They are awake to the indignity of living in a society that allows powerful interest groups to weave sticky webs of manipulation that block gun-safety legislation, even as other nations—Australia is one of several examples—demonstrate that lifesaving gun policies are possible. Furthermore, these students are becoming awake to the intricate systems of humiliation coordinated by public and private forces that wash their hands of responsibility while they spread a lucrative gospel of the right to carry combat weapons—a level of organized denial, sabotage, and consumer brainwashing formerly only achieved by the tobacco industry.

Emma and her classmates became the emergency responders resuscitating America’s urgent need for gun safety regulation and peace education.

Are we awake? Is America ready to see itself as hostage to a wealthy cabal of organizations and corporations that have risen to power through shameless marketing of the false god of firepower? Are too many politicians caught in a type of political Stockholm syndrome, selling out their constituents and their capacity for leadership to “dark money”? Have too many Americans been stunned into silence by a relentless procession of mass shootings that have induced a form of social “numbification,” the inertia that spreads when people live in chronically humiliating conditions? Or, as the ultimate manipulation, have too many Americans been recruited to participate in their own humiliation, groomed to stay patriotically loyal to a gun system that they believe will save them even as it betrays them and kills their children? The Parkland student-survivors are giving adults an anaphylactic dose of peace education by challenging us to reflect on these “hot embers” of thought.

Some research suggests that young people are not particularly interested in peace education. Social psychologists Baruch Nevo and Iris Brem found that peace programs that address youths of thirteen to fifteen years tend to be unsuccessful. In other words, youth who might benefit the most from peace education, are the least reachable. Their brains are in the midst of major modifications, and the human brain typically does not reach its full capacity until the age twenty-five. Adolescents seem to dislike peace talk, despite the fact that they are the most in need to hear it, and the most vulnerable to being recruited not least by terror entrepreneurs (e.g., leaders of extremist groups), which includes corporate entrepreneurs (e.g., the assault weapons industry). The weapons industry has the greatest need for peace education.

Yet, the Parkland students are on fire. They have survived a type of traumatic shock that has forever reconfigured the path of their brain development into a laser-like demand for action. They are on fire because they know that they shouldn’t have to fight for their right to stay alive while going to school. They are on fire because they know that adults need to grow up and find long-term solutions to this deadly problem. They are on fire because they need and deserve the dignity of being lovingly held safe in their social surroundings. And, more than most, they know that some youths may not be able to contain themselves, thus their social surroundings must shoulder this responsibility. Adults are the primary designers of the safe and loving surroundings young people need to grow, and we have fallen shamefully short for too long. These students know it. They are sending us a satyagraha wake up call! Are we awake?

Even as this article is being composed, politicians are backtracking on practical action in response to Parkland. They are backtracking on proposals to raise the minimum age for buying a gun to 21, they are immobilized by the possibility of strengthening background checks, and, defying logic and common sense, they can’t bring themselves to ban bumpstocks or assault rifles. Following the shooting, weapons industry leaders gathered for lunch at the White House. Were they planning strategies to white wash the problem with white lies? The mother of all white lies is the suggestion that increasing the number of guns in society will insure our safety and security. We call BS! This theory has failed. It keeps America on an endless treadmill of deadly and expensive failure.

Bypassing politics, we applaud citizens rising to the Parkland call for dignity through adult responsibility. Courageous corporations are changing their policies that provide the gun industry with privileges. We applaud Dick’s and REI sporting good stores; Delta and United Airlines; Enterprise, Hertz, and Avis rental cars; and the growing list of businesses responding to Parkland with practical action. These corporations are showing the world that children’s lives trump money. Will our politicians catch on? If not, America must vote them into knowing their responsibility.

Parkland students are reminding us that dignity, gun safety, and peace education require daily relational energy and effort. We are living in a world where everything is connected; no one is immune to the pain and humiliation of gun violence. When anyone becomes a victim, all of us are victimized. There are no single answers, no silver bullets to solve our gun violence problem. Those who espouse hyper-individualistic, overly simplistic solutions send us into an abyss of ballistic blaming and scapegoating. Instead, all of us must do our part to foster change and be changed in the process. We can start by doing everything we can to cultivate the vital social and relational conditions that reduce the risk of gun violence, in our schools and everywhere.

Parkland students are reminding us that dignity, gun safety, and peace education require daily relational energy and effort. We are living in a world where everything is connected; no one is immune to the pain and humiliation of gun violence. When anyone becomes a victim, all of us are victimized.

America’s failure to enact effective gun safety policies may be the most valuable lesson to peace educators around the world. Our national paralysis exemplifies one outcome of systemic humiliation. People feel humiliated on all sides of the dialogue and this serves the interests of those who want to maintain the status quo, an overflowing fire-hose of weapons in America. Can this systemic humiliation be transformed into systemic dignity? We say, “YES,” and the Parkland students are showing us how, plowing their way forward with uncompromising clarity, with creative activism, with courage-in-connection that connects all of us through their pain. They are healing their grief and humiliation by giving us a national lesson in peace education. In the process, they are planting the seeds of dignity, recovery, and responsibility that we need to see. We call “Bravo!” May all of us hear their call!

*“BS” a slang term used by youth and others to describe misleading, deceptive, or nonsensical talk.

Recommended Readings and Resources

  • CNN Staff. (2018). Florida student Emma Gonzalez to lawmakers and gun advocates: “We call BS.” Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/17/us/florida-student-emma-gonzalez-speech/index.html
  • Hartling, L. M., & Lindner, E. G. (2016). Healing humiliation: From reaction to creative action. Journal of Counseling and Development, 96, 383 – 390. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.2014.00000.x
  • Hartling, L. M., & Lindner, E. G. (2017). Toward a globally informed psychology of humiliation: Comment on McCauley (2017). American Psychologist, 72(7), 705-706. doi:10.1037/amp0000188
  • Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies: http://www.humiliationstudies.org
  • Lindner, E. G. (2017). Honor, humiliation, and terror: An explosive mix—and how we can defuse it with dignity. Lake Oswego, OR: World Dignity University Press.
  • Nevo, Baruch, and Iris Brem (2002). “Peace education programs and the evaluation of their effectiveness.” In Peace education: The concept, principles, and practices around the world, edited by Gavriel Salomon, and Baruch Nevo. Chapter 24, pp. 271–82. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

About the Authors

Linda M. Hartling ([email protected]; [email protected]) – PhD/ Director, Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS); Co-Founder, World Dignity University initiative, Dignity Press; and Former Associate Director: Jean Baker Miller Training Institute (JBMTI), at Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA. Author of numerous papers and chapters; co-editor The Complexity of Connection (2004); author of the Humiliation Inventory, a scale to assess the internal experience of humiliation; and 2010 Research Award recipient, Association for Creativity in Counseling, American Counseling Association. 

Evelin G. Lindner ([email protected]) – MD/PhD/PhD/ Founding President, Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS); Co-Founder, World Dignity University initiative, Dignity Press; and Nominee, Nobel Peace Prize, 2015, 2016, and 2017. Affiliations: Columbia University’s Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution, New York; the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Paris; University of Oslo’s Department of Psychology and Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, Oslo, Norway. Books: Making Enemies (2007); Emotion and Conflict (2009); Gender, Humiliation, and Global Security (2010); A Dignity Economy (2012); and Honor, Humiliation, and Terror: An Explosive Mix–And How We Can Defused It with Dignity (2017).

1 Comment

  1. In changing the debate we reclaim our dignity from the tight grip of a society hell bent on humiliation.

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